At one point during Luke Kennard’s freshman season at Duke, coach Mike Krzyzewski said the 6-6, 202-pound guard needed to do better.
But after working tirelessly in the offseason, Kennard still hadn’t secured a starting spot in a 2016-17 lineup highlighted by five-star freshmen, one of the top recruiting classes in the nation.
He wouldn’t remain in the background for long.
Because Kennard rose.
He boosted his scoring average by nine points and captured MVP honors when Duke won the ACC tournament championship in March.
Now, he’s lifted his game all the way to the NBA draft. Krzyzewski called it in November: “Luke’s going to be a pro.”
I’m confident that I’m ready and have a great foundation for success at the NBA level.
Luke Kennard on declaring for the NBA
The school on Thursday announced Kennard, after a breakout season with the Blue Devils that pushed him into the forefront, will declare and hire an agent. He averaged 19.5 points a game and shot 48.9 percent in his All-American season.
“I’m confident that I’m ready and have a great foundation for success at the NBA level,” Kennard, a native of Franklin, Ohio, said in a release. “After considerable reflection, prayer and consultation with my family and coaches, I have decided to take the next step in pursuing my basketball dreams by entering the NBA draft.”
Duke freshmen Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles also decided to go to the NBA.
Kennard asserted himself early, becoming one of only two Duke players to appear in all 37 games in a season riddled with injuries. His stamina led him to team-high 35.5 minutes a game.
He finished his career with 1,147 points, which were the fourth-most by a Duke player in the first two seasons. Kennard reached the 1,000-point club at Miami on Feb. 25.
Kennard scored a career-high 35 points on Dec. 3 and made a 3-pointer in 40 consecutive games for the second-longest scoring streak in Duke history.
Kennard, a right-handed guard who shoots with his left, made a season-defining shot – a 3-pointer – to beat Wake Forest in Winston-Salem on Jan. 28.
After being excluded from the preseason ACC lists, Kennard was the only unanimous choice for first-team All-ACC honors this year.
He leaves Duke with the second-best free-throw shooting percentage with 86.7 (minimum of 200 free throws made) and scored 20 points in 26 of 73 (35.6 percent) career games – 19 were in his standout sophomore season, where he carried the Blue Devils with consistent offense.
“I always try to set goals in the offseason; it’s a big thing for me,” Kennard said during Duke’s trip to Greenville, South Carolina, the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. “I always want to get better as a player. I always have that mentality to get better every day.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538; @JessikaMorgan